Logging in NSW bushfire-hit coastal regions to be reviewed after stand-off between industry and EPA

Lisa Cox
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

The New South Wales government is planning a review of forestry operations in bushfire-hit coastal regions as tensions mount between the environment regulator and Forestry Corporation.

The review, which is still to be formally commissioned, will probably be carried out by the state’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC), government sources have told Guardian Australia.

The state’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has issued the state-owned Forestry Corporation with a series of stop-work orders this year for breaches of its licence in bushfire-hit forests on the south and north coasts.

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Last month, the EPA started five prosecutions against Forestry Corporation in the land and environment court for alleged breaches of its licence in a forest near Coffs Harbour.

Because of the destruction caused by the bushfires, the EPA had set stricter standards for logging operations covered by the coastal integrated forestry operations approval (IFOA).

The EPA’s application of the post-bushfire rules has frustrated the industry and the Department of Regional NSW wrote to the agency in September to say forestry believed environmental protections set out in its approval remained adequate after the fires.

But MPs and residents of coastal NSW have been dismayed at the logging of fire-affected habitat given the scale of disaster and its effect on threatened plants and animals, including koalas.

The planned review will consider the standards that should be in place for forestry operations after bushfires and try to chart a path back to the use of the coastal IFOA.

The NRC provides independent advice to government and was the agency that delivered the report on the Barwon-Darling water-sharing plan, which found the riverine system was in crisis.

The independent MP, Justin Field, who is based on the south coast, asked the forestry minister, John Barilaro, about the “now-public dispute” between the EPA and regional NSW and what the government was doing to ensure forestry operations were ecologically sustainable.

Field told Guardian Australia the NRC “will effectively be the arbiter in the disagreement between Forestry Corporation and the EPA over what logging could sustainably happen in burnt forest”.

“This is in response to numerous EPA stop-work orders and investigations into breaches under the burnt forest logging rules,” he said.

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“I welcome this review. The public has recommended that business as usual after the fires is not possible.”

He said an independent assessment of the impact of logging on burnt forest and wood supply was appropriate.

“I hope this leads to a conversation about a transition away from public native forestry to plantations and private land forestry.”

A spokesman for Barilaro would not confirm a formal review.

“As the minister noted in parliament, the NRC has been engaged in developing forest monitoring programs to track progress against IFOA requirements,” he said.

“Specifically, the NRC was appointed to oversee a monitoring program to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (Coastal IFOA) in achieving its objectives and outcomes.”

The spokesman added that separate to the monitoring program, the government “is also considering an appropriate pathway for Forestry Corporation to recommence operating under standing IFOA conditions and prescriptions” in fire-affected regions across the state.